New Year’s Tips for Super Bowl Hopefuls

With a new year comes new hope for a fresh start. That is, except for the soldiers of the gridiron in the National Football League. With Super Bowl XLIV a mere month away, the start of 2010 signals the end for most NFL teams’ runs — with the exception of one very worthy team.

As the playoffs begin, even upper-echelon teams need to tighten their game. So, just as any average Joe makes New Year’s resolutions at the start of January, I propose the following strategies for NFL teams to kick their bad habits and earn a bid at this year’s Super Bowl.

First on my list are the San Diego Chargers, who need to kick their procrastination habits. San Diego has had an unnerving habit of not killing off opponents early enough in games, and relying on narrow last-second victories. In a Week One match against the paltry Oakland Raiders, San Diego was lucky to eke past with a touchdown only 18 seconds before the end of the game. In Week Nine, with fewer than 30 seconds on the clock, the Chargers scored the game-winning touchdown to beat the New York Giants by a point, and it took a field goal with only three seconds on the clock to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14. I could go on forever about the Chargers’ late-game heroics, but I’ve got a word count to worry about here. So let’s just say if the Chargers want to pass the ultimate Super Bowl exam, they are going to have to be sharp from the first blow of the whistle to the last. We the students could even learn a thing or two from the Chargers: Waiting until the last second is not worth the risk.

Maybe it’s a combination of the jet lag and aging players, but the New England Patriots have had a hard time adapting to away-game environments. Coming into this weekend’s match, the Patriots sport an outstanding 8-0 home record. But, as impressive as they are at home, they are equally disappointing on the road, accumulating a 2-5 record in games outside the Northeast. This season, New England has failed to prove they have what it takes to win abroad — their only road wins came against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the mediocre Buffalo Bills. Fortunately for them, they will host one of the Wild Card games. However, should they advance, a road game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against either the Chargers or the Indianapolis Colts awaits. The Patriots have to get tougher on the road, or go home for good.

Everyone deserves a chance after an honest mistake. But the Green Bay Packers have asked for one too many second chances, and expect automatic forgiveness. Having collected a league-leading 114 penalties as the regular season comes to a close, the Green Bay Packers are pushing their luck. They also lead the league in another dubious stat they shouldn’t be too proud of: sacks allowed. Heading into this weekend, Green Bay gave up a whopping 50 sacks — four times more than the 12 sacks the Indianapolis Colts have under their collective belt. It is a good thing Bret Favre isn’t at the helm in Green Bay; I would hate to see the geriatric break a hip. If the Packers want to make the cheeseheads happy and Lambeau-leap their way to a Super Bowl, they are going to have to cut down these lapses of concentration. The Packers’ New Year’s resolutions should be to stop with the brain farts, keep the yellow flags in the zebra’s pockets and concentrate on protecting the precious arm of Aaron Rodgers instead of making his life more miserable.

Last but not least, the Arizona Cardinals need to get to know each other better. It’s not uncommon to see quarterback Kurt Warner launch the ball downfield to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who regularly comes up with the ball and a touchdown. However, on occasion, Warner has a knack for passing the ball to a player on the wrong team. The Cardinals need to remember that turnovers can transform a successful season into a disappointing playoff exit.  Need proof? We need not look further into their past than last season’s Super Bowl. Arizona, trailing 10-7, was in the Pittsburgh red zone with only 18 seconds until halftime. Then, in a moment of madness, Warner tossed the ball into the end zone, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison came up with the ball and returned it for pick-six. The Steelers took a 17-7 lead on that play, en route to their eventual 27-23 victory. Will the past come back to haunt the Cardinals? As of now, the Cardinals have a negative-five turnover differential, meaning they’ve given up five more turnovers than they’ve forced. In comparison the Packers — the Cardinals’ likely Wild Card opponent – have a turnover differential of plus-22. That means the Cardinals must resolve to be a little less generous. Come on guys — Christmas is over already.

With that, I conclude the NFL team resolution list. Let’s hope they take a word from the wise — it’s the only way they’ll have a legitimate chance at lifting the Lombardi Trophy.